Essential Worker Balances Fear of Virus with Need to Work


Essential Worker Balances Fear of Virus with Need to Work


Writer Sheila Grant interviews a pet food and supplies store employee about what it’s like to be an essential worker.






The Gazette Inc. (Dexter, Me.)


The Eastern Gazette, Vol. 168, No. 16


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AUGUSTA -- When one needs their job, speaking out about what it’s like to be an essential employee might be risky.

“So, I’m considered an essential worker, as we supply people with food and supplies for their pets,” explained the worker, who wished to remain anonymous. The store serves pet owners within a 50-mile radius of Maine’s capital and is considered a high-traffic location.

“The executives have done a great job being transparent about all the changes due to COVID-19,” she said. “We've been able to keep the same payroll hours, but our business hours have changed. We're required to keep track of the number of people in the store (no more than 15), which is difficult when 'Bob' and 'Mary' decide to take their family of five to go look at the 'pretty fish,' without gloves or masks, and with a few kids coughing and sneezing on everyone and everything in store.

“Because of this, and because we are trying to reduce the risk to everyone, we have an extensive cleaning schedule of all the carts, baskets, counters, pin pads, etc.” she said. “I've also learned that the best way to help protect my customers is to sanitize my gloves between each interaction. We are taking this seriously, but it has become painfully obvious not everyone is.”

This employee lives with, “my dad who has health issues already. Both my parents are taking care of their parents, whose health is already declining without the help of COVID-19. Because of this, every time I leave this house I'm wearing gloves, have hand sanitizer, and grab a mask from work if I'm there.

“The fact that I have coworkers and customers telling me that 'it is what it is' and 'if they get it, they get it' without wearing gloves or a mask or taking any precautions is appalling,” she said. “I'm putting not only myself, but my family, at risk by working, and people who go about their day like normal, without any precautions whatsoever are the reason we're in this mess.”

Recently, this employee came down with a head cold. “Mostly just a sore throat, but with everything going on, you never know,” she said. “Luckily, I had that day off, but everyone in my house treated me like the plague. If I touched a handle they'd sanitize it before using it. I drank so much Emergen-C!

“The next day I was scheduled to work,” she said. “As it was just a head cold, I was feeling a lot better but still not 100 percent. Everywhere you look, people are telling you to stay home if you feel sick, so that’s what I did. One more day to get it out of my system. When I called in however, I felt like the bad guy. The afternoon crew had also called in just moments before me, so now the managers were scrambling to figure things out, and I got the stress unload.”

Still, she is grateful to still have a job, “and so is my mom, who is now working from home. My brother works third shift and my dad is a disabled veteran. With a six-month-old puppy and two cats in the house, we are already crazy and annoyed with each other enough without the addition of COVID-19 closing opportunities to get away from each other.”

The April 9 blizzard didn’t help the stress level, since gardening is a pathway to relaxation. “My seedlings are eagerly waiting to be planted in the garden, and I need sun! I want to get my hands dirty digging out weeds and growing my own food again. Even before COVID, I was planning the garden, leaning about sourdough and canning and preserving foods, and summer will bring that. Like most people, I'm tired of winter and mud season at this point, and just want to sun bathe. But on the bright side, the birds are enjoying the feeder now. Some chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and eastern phoebes have visited.”

All in all, though, she said, “I’m calm but scared. I don't know if I'm being cautious enough or am blissfully ignorant of how much danger I'm putting myself (and my family) in.”

Original Format



Grant, Sheila D., “Essential Worker Balances Fear of Virus with Need to Work,” Heart of Maine Community Stories, accessed February 26, 2024,

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